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Thursday, July 21, 2005

US: federal shield law on the block

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a hearing to a proposed federal shield law. The bill would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources unless "disclosure of the identity of such a source is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to national security." According to the New York Times, the reception was generally positive. "But a harshly worded dissent from the Justice Department, which called the bill "bad public policy" that would hamper its ability to enforce the law and fight terrorism, underscored the difficult road the legislation faces in becoming law."

The hearing included testimony in favor of the bill from 9 elected representatives, lawyers and journalists, among them Matthew Cooper, who recently almost went to prison for not revealing his sources (see also former posting on the Miller case). "The witnesses echoed one another on Wednesday, arguing that the shield law's purpose was not to bestow preferential treatment on journalists but to ensure that the public gets the information it needs to make informed decisions about the government." Their argument is that without protection for journalists' sources less informants would come to the press. This seems already to be the case at the Time magazine. Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc., told the New York Times that since he has obeyed the courts and handed over notes of journalist Matthew Cooper, Time magazine has lost several valuable confidential sources.

In contrast the Justice Department thinks that the bill goes too far. According to the Los Angeles Times James B. Comey, deputy attorney general, said: "It would bar the government from obtaining information about media sources ? even in the most urgent of circumstances affecting the public's health or safety or national security." So it will not be easy for the bill to pass (see also former posting on anonymous sources).

Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on July 21, 2005 at 04:15 PM | Permalink


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